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Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: How to Pitch a Book Review

You were all so incredibly kind about and interested in my previous “case study” post. So when my latest book review (of Damion Searls’s translation of Life Goes On, the first novel by Hans Keilson), appeared in The Forward last week, I thought that you might similarly welcome some potentially instructive background. That’s why I’m sharing the text below, which reproduces most of my initial e-mail message seeking the assignment.

I say “most” because when I sent this pitch last summer, The Forward‘s arts coverage was in transition. Ultimately, I sent this pitch to both the managing editor (the former arts & culture editor) and the newly assigned arts & culture editor. I’d corresponded with both of these individuals before, so there were some personalized greetings that I’m omitting in the text below.

I’m writing now to ask if a reviewer has yet been assigned to cover the forthcoming reissue of Hans Keilson’s Life Goes On, which Farrar, Straus & Giroux will release, in a translation by Damion Searls, in late October. If it’s still awaiting a reviewer, I hope that you’ll consider giving me the assignment.

You may recall that Keilson passed away last year at the age of 101, and that, German-born, he gained literary fame late in his life, when two of his other books (Comedy in a Minor Key and The Death of the Adversary) were similarly reissued (and reviewed in The Forward). I’ve read both of those books in translation, and I’m eager to read Life Goes On.

Like many European Jews of his generation, Keilson lived a life transformed by Nazism and the Holocaust. I understand that Life Goes On, first published when Keilson was only 23, is largely autobiographical. More precisely, and according to the publisher’s description, the book “paints a dark portrait of Germany between the world wars. It tells the story of Max Seldersen–a Jewish store owner modeled on Keilson’s father, a textile merchant and decorated World War I veteran–along with his wife, Else, and son, Albrecht, and the troubles they encounter as the German economy collapses and politics turn rancid.” The Nazis banned this book in 1934.

I want to write about Life Goes On not only to revive its story (and Keilson’s own), but also because the storyline resonates with my own family history. My German-born paternal grandmother, only slightly younger than Keilson, spoke often about her own father. Like Keilson’s father, my great-grandfather was a World War I veteran. Like Keilson’s father, my great-grandfather was a businessman. What happened to the German economy and politics in the early 1930s helped him see that my grandmother had to emigrate—fortunately, she arrived in the United States in the spring of 1938. That history has informed my own book of short stories, Quiet Americans.

Of course, I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. I hope that you’ll want to cover Life Goes On in The Forward, and I hope that I’ll be able to help you do so.

Many thanks for your continued consideration,

A few observations:

  • I did not include clips/links to previously published work with this pitch, because both editors knew about my other reviews from earlier correspondence, and because The Forward had very recently published a brief arts-related blog post of mine. But when I pitch an editor for the first time, I always include links/clips.
  • If you’re still grappling with that question of how-to-discover-forthcoming-books-ahead-of-time, you’ll see that I consulted the publisher’s fall 2012 catalog (linked within the text), which was available months earlier. For more tips on finding titles to review, check this post.
  • I did my research and indicated my familiarity with The Forward‘s past Keilson coverage, which I hope helped build a case for assigning a review of this book.
  • I followed The Forward‘s own guidelines, which emphasize the usefulness of a fairly detailed pitch.
  • To see the final result of this pitch, please click here for the published review.

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    5 Responses »

    1. This is a great query letter for anything – not just reviews. Thanks for sharing, Erika.

    2. Erika, Thank you for sharing this. I am a (volunteer) published book reviewer for a trade journal, but am considering ways to branch out into paying markets. Your post is incredibly helpful to me.

      Wendy

    3. I’m so glad you both approve!

    4. I was wondering if a pitch should always be this detailed. If the book I want to review is a fiction book, what sort of things could I add in my pitch?

      • Nazia, thanks for your comment. This pitch was, in fact, for a novel.

        As to the level of detail, that can indeed vary by editor/publication. I’m finding that I’m including a fair amount of detail to help explain why a publication’s readership might want to know about the book, as well as why I am a good person to have write about it.

        Hope that’s helpful.

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